Good news for golf: Game growing in 'momentum and energy'
With more rounds of golf being played in the United States last year, along with a major increase in the number of youth golfers in the past five years, golf's future is looking bright.
PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua believes golf "has a nice momentum and very nice energy to it right now," he said Wednesday in response to the recently released annual report on the state of the game by the National Golf Foundation.
Given that rounds played were up 2 percent over 2014 -- and more people are showing an interest in taking up the sport -- Bevacqua said the feeling among industry insiders right now is positive. Still, he knows there's work to be done to keep interest growing.
"It's not as if we're going to rest on our laurels there, but the fact that they're not stagnant or decreasing is a positive," Bevacqua said. "I know more revenue is being pumped into the game."
When it comes to making sure there's a new generation of golfers ready and able to move the game forward in coming years, Bevacqua said there's a "1-2 punch" in play. In addition to adding more youth golfers, he said having a collection of talented young tournament players on television each week is going a long way toward adding interest in the sport.
"We have roughly 500,000 more kids in the game in 2015 than we did in 2010," Bevacqua said. "That type of growth is outpacing other major sports. That's a good indicator. And when you combine so much of the positive information in the NGF report along with the fact that we have this young generation of superstars at the elite level on the men and women's side of the game."
Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko are not only successful at an early age in their careers, younger golfers can look up to them and aspire to be like them. And one of those ways is through the PGA Junior League Golf program, which gets youth golfers involved in a team sport, with uniforms and coaches.
"I've never been as motivated or enthusiastic as I am about PGA Junior League Golf," Bevacqua said. "To see how it's grown from year to year, and it's still a relatively new program. We've taken a conservative approach but we're about to change that. We want it to grow rapidly at this point and really putting our efforts and resources behind it."
There were approximately 30,000 Junior League golfers on 2,500 teams last summer, Bevacqua said. He'd like to see that figure doubled or tripled in the very near future. In addition, there's a chance to grow Junior League on an international basis.
"Unlike some other sports, this is being coached and taught by true professionals -- experts in the game, PGA of America Professionals," Bevacqua said. "You put that energy behind it and you see how it's an enjoyable, team-based, non-intimidating way for these kids to get involved in the game."
With other youth initatives like the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, which partners the PGA of America with Augusta National Golf Club and the United States Golf Association, Bevacqua said he's seeing more opportunities for the golf industry to combine forces in order to shape the game's growth.
"What's so encouraging is these programs are working and the golf industry, the major entities in the game, are aligned in the mindset that we need to bring kids into the game in a fun, welcoming, accessible way," he said.
But Bevacqua said growing golf is not just a matter of bringing more kids into the game. He also wants to target adults who have a difficult time finding time for golf amid their busy schedules.
There's a misconception that golf requires 18 holes and a large block of time, he said. He likened it to basketball -- where anything from shooting free throws to playing 1-on-1 can be considered "basketball," even if it's not the regulation game. And golf can be broken down into smaller, less time-consuming pieces as well.
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"We realize that people have less time than ever," Bevacqua said. "There's a reality to that. And golf, like any other activity, does take time. And some times, we can be our own worst enemy. It doesn't need to be an 18- or even a 9-hole experience.
"We have to be smart. We have to realize that people do things in 30-, 60- or 90-minute segments. And we need to make sure the people taking up the game know you can have a golf experience in that time frame. Take a lesson from a PGA Professional in a half-hour. Play a few holes when you have time after work with your spouse, your kids or your friends."
Bevacqua is also enthused by the idea behind TopGolf.
"What I love about TopGolf is you see how eclectic the audience is," he said. "Let's make this funnel (of potential golfers) as big as we can, so we can give as many people as possible a golf experience. The more people who we can touch and feel the game, those are the people we can convert into true golfers.
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"We're in no way saying let's move away from 18 holes. That's the ultimate experience, the essence of golf. But let's try to touch as many people with a golf experience as we can, because the more people we touch, the more people will understand and be attracted to the beauty of the game."
And that's where the PGA Professional comes into play, Bevacqua said.
"The PGA of America Professional truly is the tangible connection between the game and just about everyone who plays it in this country," Bevacqua said. "Whether that's a private course here in Palm Beach Gardens or a 9-hole municipal course in Wichita, Kansas, chances are it's a PGA of America Professional that's connecting you to the game. Teaching the game, making the game welcoming, making the game fun and urging you to continue with the game.
"We represent 28,000 people who wake up each day trying to bring this game to life and grow this game. And we know as an organization, bringing children -- boys and girls -- into the game is so important for its future health."